Yosemite Valley, Pt. I

This past weekend, I had the chance to visit the Yosemite Valley for the first time. I had never been there, not as far as I can remember (although I have heard stories about a family trip when I was very young).

Before the trip, I knew a lot of facts about the Yosemite Valley.

  • I knew that is relatively near Mammoth, where I have spent a lot of time.
  • I knew that it contained several waterfalls and granite rock faces, especially El Capitan and Half-Dome.
  • I knew that it was where photographer Ansel Adams took some of his most famous photographs, many of which were taken close to 100 years ago,  but which still define photography in Yosemite to this day.
  • I knew that it was the site of many famous rock-climbing legends, stories of men and women that dared to climb the sheer granite faces of El Capitan and Half-Dome.

None of these things prepared me for actually being in Yosemite and walking the valley floor.


El Capitan, as seen from the Valley floor near Bridalveil Falls.

I have written and rewritten this post multiple times, each time trying to accurately describe the feelings and thoughts I had while there. The size of Yosemite beggars description, and elicits overwhelming feelings of awe, wonder, and humility. I have come to accept that I won’t be able to.

It is . . . beautiful. And magical. Not in the sense of Harry Potter, where I can wave a wand about and make things levitate. More in the sense of The Chronicles of Narnia–where you can instantly find yourself in a whole new world, separate from this one. It is really easy to forget about the outside world–politics, election results, poverty, suffering–it all disappears while inside Yosemite.

It is easy to hear the call, the same call Ansel Adams or John Muir must have felt. The call to leave “civilized” life and wander the mountains and forests, to admire the giant sequoias, the granite mountains, the high lonely places. The call to wander and contemplate Nature in her glory, to feel one with it, in all its beauty, majesty, and severity. Why does mankind ever think we can possible control Nature, to control this? I can’t think of any other response than awe and humility–awe that I can still be a part of Nature and be so close to its wonders, humility that I can see a herd of deer and a regal buck and stand so close to them and be such a part of nature.

And immense shame that my species would be so hellbent on trying to destroy these wonders.


A buck, watching over and protecting a herd.

19 thoughts on “Yosemite Valley, Pt. I

  1. Your pictures are spellbinding, your words captivating. I particularly like your use of children’s books to describe what you mean by magic in this context. And I share your shame at human(un)kinds remarkable selfishness and lack of judgement as co-habitants of this planet.

    • Those are very kind words, Osyth, and I thank you for them.

      Sometimes, though not always, I do find that fiction writers, especially those that write for children and teens, are better at capturing a sense of magic, of wonder, of the inexplicable, than those that write for adults.

      It is great shame, indeed; these lands and animals must be protected and nourished.

      • I only EVER say what I mean – it’s a rule. I agree with you about those that write for the young – certainly Lewis and more recently Rowling but I would also include Dahl and Seuss as exemplars of the art of bottling magic and releasing it in a way that captivates. And we must protect this place and remember that we share it. As Seuss put it in his masterly Lorax ‘I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues’ …. you spoke 🙂

      • That is a great policy to hold to. I find that Lewis, more than the others, fuels that kind of magic in my imagination.

        In a broader sense, I find that, in a nutshell, Seuss hit the nail on the head, not just about Nature or the animals, but about all things. Humanity is at its best when we give voice to the voiceless in direct opposition to the powerful that aim to ignore and exploit them.

      • Yes, Lewis was an extraordinary voice and an extraordinary communicator of the magic that is all around us and the magic that we can unleash if we allow our imaginations flight. I always feel that it is all the more incredible given that he lived a bachelor life with his brother, a pair of academics together, until late in life when he found love, endured the untimely death of his wife and was thrust into the role of single (step) father as a relatively elderly man.

      • I can see how one would think Lewis and Warnie would be nothing more than stuffy academics with a taste for dead languages. However, reading through Lewis’ letters, from even a very young age he was an imaginative and creative boy with an appreciation for writing and opera, and as he grew that appreciation widened to include myths, folklore, and more. Some of what Lewis and Tolkien (as well as the rest of the Inklings) discussed most often was fiction, myth, religion, poetry, and old languages.

      • What I meant by that comment was that the assumption would be that without children in his life, he might have lost his sense of wonder. His preserved and nurtured imagination and faith have, in my opinion done more than most scriptures to enchant and stimulate young minds and old. I am an Oxford girl – we have a fierce pride in Lewis and Tolkien (whose great niece I grew up with and I can still remember the moment when I realised why her house had an odd name …. Rivendell). Lewis’ letters are essential reading for any that seek to find the man behind the wonder.

      • That makes sense, and I see what you mean. Many people assume do assume that of adults in general, and of academics especially. He has done a lot to stimulate the minds and imaginations of others.

        I was fortunate enough to study abroad at Oxford (in Wycliffe Hall) several years ago, and soak up the atmosphere, the buildings and pubs, and the wonder. As part of my Lewis seminar, I was even fortunate enough to go see the Kilns and Lewis’ grave site, since the seminar leader was a Lewis researcher and writing a book on the Narniad (Planet Narnia). Being there was a transformative experience, and after coming home I devoured the writings of Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, and many others in that vein.

        It is hard to imagine anyone being in Oxford and not returning with some that same sense of wonder. Go past Hertford Bridge, left down an inconspicuous alley, and suddenly you find a pub hidden away, like its own magic world. The pubs, the parks, the colleges, the Bodleian; the place is steeped in magic, in my opinion.

      • There is no place like Oxford. I’m glad you had the chance to study there. And even gladder that you allowed yourself to be steeped in the creeping wonder of the place. Of course, having a Lewis scholar as your teacher was the icing on the bun but you have to be open to experience in life and you clearly were and are. I’m pleased to have met you.

      • It is a great place.

        Being open to experiences is a key part of life, I agree. Sometimes life does not go as expected, and you have to be open to new experiences, people, and places. There is too much to see and learn to settle for just the known.

      • I have always said that the moment I stop wanting to learn is the moment to have me put out of my misery. Life is a gift and we should embrace that gift and not assume it will go to a particular path or formula but rather be delighted by the twists and turns it takes. Most things have a silver lining if you examine carefully enough. I can be depressed and despondent with the best of them but I care not to live like that but rather to try and find the joy and being open to new experience enhances the chances of that happening.

  2. Beautiful photos. I’ve never visited Yosemite, only seen photos. Your photos capture the magic of what I’ve always imagined. Muir and Adams must have seen the same magic. Have a Happy Thanksgiving. Peace.

    • Thank you!

      I grew up around photos of the area, and only now was able to get there in person. I can think of no greater compliment than saying that my photos captured magic similar to Adams’.

      A Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as well.

  3. Pingback: Yosemite Valley, Pt. II | A Life of Wanderlust and Contemplation

  4. Pingback: Yosemite Climbers | A Life of Wanderlust and Contemplation

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